Questioning the tide of ADHD

Bill Snyder
Published: November, 2003

An estimated 3 percent to 6 percent of school-aged children in the United States are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Little information is available about racial and ethnic differences in the incidence of ADHD, but some experts worry that the disorder may be over-diagnosed in certain groups.

At historically black Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Susanne Tropez-Sims, M.D., and her colleagues noticed that a number of African-American children who were being referred by their physicians to the pediatric clinic with a diagnosis of ADHD actually did not have the disorder.

Some of the children had other psychological problems that were related to the stress of being exposed to violence in their neighborhoods. “Those issues have to be addressed before you can get a change in behavior,” says Tropez-Sims, professor of Pediatrics.

Tropez-Sims doesn’t know how often children are misdiagnosed, but she wants to find out. She and her colleagues are planning to conduct a needs assessment for establishing a center for ADHD services and research at Meharry.

Treating behavior problems in children is important, but so is a correct diagnosis. “We just need to make sure that if we place children on stimulants they really need it, and that it does help,” she says.

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